Ethiopian engineer capitalizes on skills to start local business

ECDI Spotlight — By on May 24, 2012 at 8:00 am

When Retta Tegegne arrived in the United States with his wife and three children in 2004, he left behind his twelve-year career as a civil engineer in his home country of Ethiopia. While working unskilled jobs to make ends meet, Tegegne sought ways to use his engineering skills and background to support his family.

In 2005, he was introduced to the Economic and Community Development Institute’s Individual Development Account program, a matched grant program that provided small amounts of funding for business capitalization. Through this program, $500 of Tegegne’s personal savings was matched with an additional $1,000.

He used this to buy tools and a laptop and started his first business, United Engineers Home Inspection, which allowed him to earn an income using his education and the skills he had developed in Ethiopia. In 2008, in addition to his home inspection business, Tegegne started Bezalel Construction, providing small residential building and construction services.

In addition to providing IDA funding to start his business and finish his degree, ECDI was able to help Tegegne access clients for Bezalel Construction through its Home Repair program. This program uses grant funding to perform minor repairs and handicap modifications in the homes of low-income senior citizens and disabled individuals, at no cost to the homeowner, who would otherwise be unable to afford to make the repairs. ECDI subcontracts work to small, local contracting businesses like Bezalel Construction.

To date, Tegegne has worked on close to 50 houses as a result of the Home Repair program.

In addition to starting two businesses, Tegegne recently completed his bachelor’s degree in applied management from Franklin University. By providing training and assistance as Tegegne started his business and finished his education, he says his annual income has tripled since 2009. And depending on the work that he is doing, Bezalel employs anywhere from one to seven people.

“I have been a client for ECDI as I have taken short courses to qualify for the IDA program and received funds to buy books and tools,” he says. “Now I perform construction works for ECDI clients, my clients too. I have a unique respect and care for my clients for I know I am representing my ECDI as we carry out home repair projects.”

Bezalel, in Hebrew history, was a master craftsman− an image that Tegegne carries into his work.

Today, Tegegne is preparing to start a graduate program and is working to position himself to get a loan to expand his construction business. In order to make the most of his civil engineering background, Tegegne would like to grow his business to a point where he can take on larger commercial jobs and government contracts.

Cash flow is the issue, he says, and without collateral it is hard to get a loan or a line of credit. However, Tegegne has found a creative way to remedy the problem.

He recently bought a fire-damaged home on the east side of Columbus for a rock-bottom price and is rehabbing it in order to use it for collateral.

To contact Bezalel Construction, call 614-390-9276.

If you could invest in fuller lives for Central Ohioans looking to capitalize their dream, would you? For more information on becoming an investor in the Invest Local Ohio campaign, contact ECDI President Steve Fireman at 614-732-0577 or

Amy Szabo (6 Articles)

Amy Szabos foray into microenterprise development began in graduate school as she researched microfinance as a response to human trafficking and poverty. She holds a master's degree in Slavic and Eastern European Studies from The Ohio State University, as well as a bachelor's degree in English from Oklahoma State University. From 2002 to 2004, Amy did humanitarian work in the former Yugoslavia, helping Kosovar Serbs who had been resettled in Belgrade Serbia after the Balkan wars. She also spent time in Athens, Greece, where she designed and built a human trafficking resource and response kit targeted for use by a humanitarian organization with staff throughout Eastern Europe. Amy is the Economic and Community Development Institutes resident wordsmith (aka Director of Communications and Development). She is happy to spend her days applying what she learned about microenterprise development as a poverty alleviation strategy internationally to her hometown. In her (vanishingly-small) spare time, Amy is a voracious reader, trained labor doula, part-time craftswoman, and full-time stepmother.